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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume III

12 — The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom (Wellington)

12 August 1940

My following message, Circular Z. 214,3 contains a full summary of an appreciation by the Chiefs of Staff of the situation in the Far East.

2. The appreciation is based on the following important assumptions:


That the military situation in other theatres, i.e., in Europe and the Middle East, will not change in our favour to any marked degree in the immediate future. For the present, therefore, we shall have to retain a fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean.


That the attitude of the United States remains as at present, i.e., that we can rely upon a measure of economic and material support but cannot anticipate active United States co-operation.


That we should go to war with Japan if she attacked the Netherlands East Indies and provided that the Dutch resisted.

3. The third assumption above is arbitrary and, in fact, the question whether we should or should not go to war with Japan in the event of Japanese aggression against the Netherlands East Indies is now receiving page 21 further consideration by the Chiefs of Staff. As assumption (3) has a far-reaching effect on the whole appreciation, the passages to which it particularly applies are prefaced by the words ‘(Assumption 3 begins)’ and end with the words ‘(Assumption 3 ends)’.

4. We fully appreciate the strategic disadvantage of a failure to take up the Japanese challenge in such circumstances, and the main point for further examination is whether our limited resources in the Far East, in combination with the Dutch resources in the Netherlands East Indies, would justify our taking action, in the event of a Japanese attack on the Netherlands East Indies, which would lead us into war with Japan. If our joint resources would justify such action, it would clearly be to our advantage to accept the consequences of war with Japan in the attempt to dispute a Japanese occupation of the Netherlands East Indies. If not, it remains to be considered what would be the consequences of an endeavour to avoid war with Japan on this issue. The assumption adopted on this question in the appreciation, namely, that we should go to war on this issue, should not of course be regarded as in any way prejudging the political decision. Please inform the Prime Minister that we should be glad to receive any views which he may wish to express on this question.

5. In the light of the third assumption above it would be logical that the appreciation should recommend immediate staff conversations with the Dutch in the Far East in order to concert a combined defence plan. As the Prime Minister will see from the appreciation, the Chiefs of Staff have had this in mind but consider that it would be inadvisable to initiate such conversations until we have strengthened our position in Malaya and are able to offer effective military assistance to the Dutch. Here again we should welcome any views which the Prime Minister may wish to put forward. If it is decided that such staff conversations should be held with the Dutch, it would be of the greatest assistance if the New Zealand Government would agree to send Service representatives to take part in them when the time arrives. I should be glad if you would invite the Prime Minister to consider this suggestion, which is also being made to the Prime Minister of Australia.

6. It will be seen from paragraph 34 of the appreciation that an attempt has been made to assess, on the basis of such information as is at the Chiefs of Staff's disposal, the scale of a possible Japanese attack on Australia and New Zealand. No suggestion, on the other hand, has been included in the appreciation as to the defence arrangements which would be required locally to meet such an attack. His page 22 Majesty's Governments in the Commonwealth of Australia and in New Zealand will, however, wish to consider the matter in detail in the light of the Chiefs of Staff's estimated scale of attack, if they find themselves in agreement with the appreciation generally.

7. As regards paragraph 34 of the appreciation, the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, like the New Zealand Government, have reached the conclusion that the existing garrison at Fiji must be regarded as quite inadequate in the circumstances of hostilities with Japan. Please refer in this connection to my telegram of 9 August1 stating that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom consider that the action which His Majesty's Government in New Zealand propose to take with regard to the early reinforcement of Fiji is a most valuable contribution to the common cause.

8. In paragraph 50 of the appreciation certain conclusions are drawn as to the garrison required in Malaya in addition to the troops already there. The Prime Minister will wish to know that, as in the present circumstances it is impossible for us or for India to provide even one further division, we are renewing our invitation to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth to consider as a matter of urgency the possibility of the early despatch of such a force to Singapore from Australia.